A source who used to work with FBI agents and county prosecutors on complex financial cases once told me that white collar rip-off schemes were so widespread that only thefts involving $1 million or more were likely to be investigated, much less prosecuted.
Translation: as long as you're smart enough not to steal more than six figures, you'll probably get away with it.
Apparently, Matthew J. Walker, 34, of Orange, a former vice president of the Farmers and Merchants Bank who managed the lending institution's Laguna Hills branch, never learned that rule. According to federal prosecutors, he stole nearly $2 million from a client over a period of 16 months ending in 2010, attempting to cover up the theft by making interest payments for the cash he'd pocketed.
Now Walker faces 41 months in federal prison.
Walker doesn't deny his actions. In November 2011, after an FBI investigation uncovered the embezzlement, he pleaded guilty to one count of theft of bank funds. Walker also admited that he'd tried to use the cash to “hit it big,” but that the start-up company he'd seeded had gone belly up, leaving him with no way to repay the money.
“Much like gambling, [Walker] used the money on a start-up company that he was intimately involved in and where he could win or lose,” a prosecution memo concluded. “Like most risky gambles, he ultimately lost it all.”
But there's a happy ending. Thanks to yesterday afternoon's ruling by U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford, Walker now has the opportunity to repay his victim–to the tune of $1.8 million.
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is managing editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).